The Washington State 2016 presidential election story makes the mechanism of caucuses seem less democratic than primaries. It seems the Democratic party caucuses, rather than the later popular vote in Washington state primary elections, controlled delegates at the Democratic National Convention. At least in Washington State, some votes matter more than others.

In March of 2016, the state Democratic Party held a caucus, where Bernie Sanders won almost 73% of the caucuses' votes, and 74 delegates were "pledged" to Sanders, as opposed to 27% of caucuses' votes and 27 delegates pledged to Hillary Clinton.

Then in May a "non-binding presidential primary", where Clinton received 52% of the popular vote, and Sanders 48%. However, being non-binding there were no delegates pledged as a result.

In a report of the roll call at the DNC convention in July 2016, it seems clear that the Washington State delegation honored the caucus results, rather than the primary election results. While this did not alter the convention's outcome, it seems like caucuses (like the electoral college) have the potential of distorting election results, permitting political tactics to override the popular vote.

Would changing the Democratic party rules regarding caucuses make an improvement similar to the elimination of the Electoral College?

  • This questions intention seems to be to start a discussion about the caucus practices of the Democratic party. Please remember that Politics Stack Exchange is a question&answer website, not a discussion forum. This question might work better on a more discussion oriented website.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 0:38
  • 1
    Caucuses are a process of "working things out", which seem to be one of the three pillars of Politics.SO. While the example (in my state of residence) is around the Democratic party rules, the Republican party seems to use them as well (e.g. Iowa). Frankly I'm an independent voter and see the process of caucuses as one that seems to exclude me based on the fact I'm not willing to pay and travel to vote, or make public which party I'm supporting. Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 1:51
  • I've edited the question to make it seem less partisan, and will nominate it for reopening. Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 2:01
  • I'm confused by your title versus your body. Is it about why Washington has two processes? Because I live here, and I didn't bother to vote in the primary because it was nonbinding, so really the numbers aren't very comparable. But even without the WA example, the title question is interesting. Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 21:10
  • Regarding the question of the caucus being democratic, it would be important to note that DNC lawyers are on record with "We could have—and we could have voluntarily decided that, Look, we’re gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way. That’s not the way it was done. But they could have. And that would have also been their right." regarding their selection process. Also, I highly recommend removing your last question and link to the Electoral College, as none of the original question is related to it and it pushing a certain political agenda.
    – David S
    Commented Mar 11 at 22:55

2 Answers 2


Would changing the Democratic party rules regarding caucuses make an improvement similar to the elimination of the electoral college?

Only if you assume that the result of the non-binding presidential primary was the correct result and the caucus vote was the wrong result. And that seems to be rather begging the question. Sure, if you assume that the primary vote was correct, then eliminating the incorrect caucus result would improve things. If you assume that the caucus vote was correct, then eliminating the primary would improve things.

While this did not alter the convention's outcome, it seems like caucuses (like the electoral college) has the potential of distorting election results, permitting political insiders to override the popular vote.

If caucuses favor political insiders, then why didn't Hillary Clinton win? One might easily argue that primaries favor political insiders, as the political insider won them. Meanwhile, political outsider Bernie Sanders won in caucuses.

Clinton also won superdelegates, who clearly favor political insiders.

If you actually want to make candidate selection more democratic, my suggestion would be to eliminate partisan primaries and replace them with ranked voting (Condorcet, IRV, Score, etc.). Take the top two candidates and have a general election run-off. The current system encourages extremes over moderates because someone who appeals to both parties can only get votes from one. Meanwhile, the extremist who only appeals to one party doesn't feel that limitation the same way.

  • Your question, "If caucuses favor political insiders, then why didn't Hillary Clinton win?" is certainly a good one. Perhaps "political insiders" was a poor choice of words on my part. P.S. Washington State moved to a "top-two" primary system, but it doesn't seem to apply to presidential elections. Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 23:50
  • The top two system that Washington (and California and Louisiana) uses is a bit different than I recommend. It picks the plurality winners rather than the consensus winners. They can't use that system for president because the presidential nominees for the major parties are determined nationally. For president, a top two election would have to be declared at the federal level.
    – Brythan
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 23:56
  • In terms of statistics, the small sample of the caucus attendees seems to have more likelihood of random error than the primary open to the entire electorate. It's generally acknowledged here that Seattle based pro-Sanders forces out-spent the Clinton campaign before the caucuses. Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 23:58
  • I would encourage anyone downvoting Brythan's answer to post a comment describing why they are downvoting it. Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 1:27
  • @Burt_Harris I haven't voted, but I'd venture a guess that this is receiving down votes because it doesn't answer your question. It attempts to counter assumptions made for why you're asking the question, but never addresses the actual question. Then leaves a personal opinion at the end. So, its less of an answer and more of a soapbox response, so its collecting down votes from the lurkers that are looking more for quality answers as defined by the site guidelines.
    – David S
    Commented Mar 11 at 23:07

It would depend on whether you would consider a primary or a caucus to be more democratic or not.

Caucuses in some ways resemble the true democratic ideal. You gather people in a room and they choose who to vote for. Then motivated supporters of each candidate talk up their candidates and people decide. Then sometimes people adjust per the discussions or not.

You could argue that this is what democracy is all about or you could argue that it denies people the right to a private vote.

Caucuses sometimes help the "non-established" candidate allowing new, and qualified candidates to make a difference in the debate, while you could say the lack of privacy could prevent others from sticking with a candidate who they might otherwise have chosen because of social pressure.

There is no question that a primary system more represents the modern electoral system, but does not encourage as much political dialogue as a caucus because of the inherent privacy of the decision. Privacy may be of greater importance to consider because of today's political climate.

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